[Thank you Dianna Hank for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
Going into this weekend, I had a crew of four, maybe five, folks from my immediate Phish group making the pilgrimage to the infamous Deer Creek for Sunday night’s (hopeful) scorcher of a show. Seeing as I live in Las Vegas now, you might be wondering why I was only going to be attending the last of the three night run in the middle of Indiana, so far from home. And the answer to that question is that I was lucky enough to be invited to my dear friends Lauren Amster & Angus Abrams’ wedding in Chicago this past Saturday night! Conveniently enough, Chicago is a mere three hour drive (+ the 1 hour time zone change) from Ruoff, so once tour was announced and some of us realized we’d be “in the area” during this run, we decided to try to make it work. The best part of all of this is the fact that I met the bride though Phish friends many years ago, so a good chunk of our Phish-going crew was going to be in attendance for this event. Like I said earlier, going into the weekend, we only had four, maybe five confirmed for the show. Yet slowly but surely, people kept giving in to temptation, changing flights, booking hotels, securing tickets and suddenly, our meager crew was starting to take some solid shape! We even had three additions at the morning-after brunch on Sunday AM! So after saying our goodbyes to the bride and groom, we hit the road and gunned it to the land of the corn.
We arrived to lot around 4 PM, after picking up some questionable fast food on the way in, and immediately started to settle into our preshow groove. Beers were consumed, friends and acquaintances were run into, and as the time drew nearer, we started to make our way over to Shakedown. I regret not being able to have spent more time perusing the vendors, but it was crowded, and I’m still not feeling 100% being in large swaths of humans like that, no matter if I’m wearing a mask or not. We maneuvered our way through the chaos and in we went! We settled in a nice spot on the back of the lawn, to the right of the party deck, and awaited the return of our heroes to the stage.
The hot Midwest sun was still high in the sky when the band took the stage to open the show with the somewhat controversial “Sigma Oasis.” While definitely one of the better new songs, the lyrics encouraging folks to “take off, take off, take off your masks” and suggesting “the fear’s an illusion, so don’t even ask” might find a better time and place than in the current situation we all find ourselves in right now. That being said, “Sigma Oasis” gave way to “The Curtain,” which is a perfect soundtrack to a warm, setting sun. Instead of finishing with “With,” the band lit into “Mike’s Song,” sending the audience into an immediate frenzy. The last time “The Curtain” went into “Mike’s Song” was 11/23/96 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
And this “Mike’s Song” was no ordinary “Mike’s Song,” either.
This jam was relentless and unique, definitely a highlight of the night. Interestingly enough, “My Soul” took what is usually “I Am Hydrogen's" place, affirming that this show would indeed not be like many others. With hijinks like this happening so early on in the show, fans could already tell that we were going to be in for a wild ride of a night. “My Soul” kept the energy high before coming to a dead stop, from which “Weekapaug Groove” poked its head out, Mike Gordon wasted no time attacking this one and driving it to a head.
“Mercury” came next, beautifully reminding us that “the net’s unbreakable, so don’t worry about falling,” in a time in which so many of us needed to hear those words. “Mercury” gave way to “46 Days,” always a scorcher, and then a cleanly-played version of “Taste.” Following “Taste” was a new Mike song called “Casual Enlightenment.” While the lyrics and/or vocals didn’t really do it for me, the sultry jam that emerged out of it was another story. Keeping with the dark and dirty theme of the set, a ripping “David Bowie” closed the 1st set, and ensured everyone was feeling extra weird during setbreak.
“Bathtub Gin” opened the 2nd set for the first time since November 30th, 2019, and set the stage for the rest of the insanity which was about to ensue. While not in the same league as some of the other behemoth jams Phish has produced thus far this tour, this “Gin” got a lot done in the time it was here, and is definitely worth a relisten. “Waves” came next, delicately and deliberately delighting dancers before Trey decided he was done with it and it was time for “Ghost!”
The segue into this “Ghost” is absolutely seamless, sending the crowd into a massive frenzy once again. The sped-up tempo also gave it an interestingly unique feel, however this groove was short lived, as only one minute and forty eight seconds after “Ghost” had begun, it’s time was ended as “Sally” made her grand entrance into the evening. “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” appeared out of seemingly nowhere and immediately took the spotlight, as folks began to throw down and really start feeling this set. The silliness really started here, as Trey teased “Ghost,” then began to sing “I feel I’ve never told you the story of Sally.” Fish realized all bets were off, and went wild with the samples before an awkward turn into “Twenty Years Later.” This tune felt like a bit of an energy sink after that ripping “Sally," and the subsequent segue into “Waste,” while buttery smooth, felt like we were beginning to slide down a slippery slope that might not be great for the set as a whole. Luckily, after a fiery “Waste” outro solo, Trey chose “Twist” to follow, which was really the beginning of the end if you were trying to keep any semblance of legible or coherent setlist notes for the evening.
A short and sultry “Twist” turned into “Makisupa Policeman” which featured “Twist” teases, Trey exclaiming, “Woke up this morning, Sally in my bed…” and a whole slew of other nonsense, including recitation of the names of other songs played that set, quotes of lyrics, and a bunch of other ridiculousness. “Martian Monster” followed, very “Twist”-y at first but then just getting really dark and dirty. Serious moments of jamming like that really kind of even out the foolishness of immediately before it. Silly Phish is happy Phish so when they’re allowed to play around and not take themselves too seriously, they’re going to end up producing a lot of really awesome stuff. You could tell the band was super relaxed and at ease last night, just having a good time playing music with their friends. You can’t really ask for much more than that.
“Martian Monster” turned back into “Twist” for a minute before Page was given the spotlight for his “Most Events Aren’t Planned,” the motto of the weekend for my crew. This jam gets out there before another well-executed segue into “More.” This joyous celebration of life was the perfect cap on a set of silly shenanigans, not done before Trey went back into “Bathtub Gin” one more time, for good measure, yelling “The story of SALLY!” before exiting the stage.
The goofiness continued throughout the encore as “Contact” -- arguably Phish’s most playful ditty -- took the first slot. As I mentioned earlier, though, all of this buffoonery is expertly evened out with serious, meaningful Phish: which is exactly why “Slave” was the only option to close out the show and the weekend. Unlike the Arkansas “Slave” jam that Fishman arguably ruined with his samples this one was as exquisite, cathartic and divine as “Slave” jams are meant to be, and it left everyone who hadn’t left during “Contact” with a massive smile on their face, from ear to ear, knowing that our band is the best band, that it’s fun to be a part of inside jokes, and that sometimes we have to learn to not take ourselves too seriously if we’re going to get out of this thing called life in one piece.
As the lights came up on Deer Creek and I watched groups of friends hugging each other, saying their goodbyes, and asking when they’ll be seeing each other again, I felt a massive sense of gratitude that our band is playing so well right now, and that there are still so many shows on the calendar for the rest of this year. We are all so very, very lucky. Looking forward to seeing what they’ve got in store for Hershey!
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